Champ Speaks by Christine Potter

Champ Speaks

I’m old, but I was glad to move my den.
My humans made my bed next to the fire—
a comfort on these winter mornings when
The South Lawn doesn’t beckon, and the choir

of shutter-clicks and shouted questions wear
me down. These days I run my best in dreams;
let Major ’s woofing end up on the air.
This good boy understands that all regimes

begin and then they end. You humans choose
your dogs and cats and Presidents, and put
them in this house to charm the world—or snooze,
like me, the dog who didn’t break Joe’s foot.

Real wisdom’s seldom something loud and fleet.
An old dog knows the fireside is sweet.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: Doggie wisdom is always more intelligible than the blather humans tell each other.

On The Seven Canonical Hours by Christine Potter

On The Seven Canonical Hours

O, Lord open thou my lips and my mouth shall show forth thy praise—Psalm 51

Since the fifth century, someone has been praying this, always.
It’s like the wind this morning that comes from everywhere

and hammers our shutters against our house, like drafts that
get in around our windows, like new sunlight that is sharper

each day with the coming of winter. Everything that shaded us
over the summer is being scraped away, flying and tumbling,

wings without birds. And with them, lauds, terce, vespers,
night watch, the slow caress of sun over our foolishness.

Open thou my lips and I will praise thee. Praise my fear, my
shaky witness, the thrill of seeing more than I wanted to, even

the ugly parade of white trucks on the bridge over the Hudson.
It tried for but did not earn my fear. Praise the faithful dead,

the constant, daily sweep of the hours, the astonishing energy
of every heart in the world. Praise dawn every day. What planets,

what pinprick distant star, what shivery moonlight? What water,
frozen or free, what tides! Open thou my lips and I shall praise thee.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This is the poem none of us realized we needed, but oh, after reading it, we know. We know.

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

From the archives – A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings by Christine Potter

A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings

Ye dragons, whose contagious breath
People the corridors of death
Change your dire hissings into heavenly song
And praise your maker with your forked tongues
—William Billings, 1794 – (a paraphrase of Psalm 148)

For-ked, with two syllables, and six or eight
sixteenth notes on “for”. Repeatedly. For
measure after measure. Breath control,
says my husband. He reminds me it was

my idea our choir sing this anthem. It’s what
I deserve for having cocktails with him and
a Sacred Harp CD. William Billings, leather
tanner, street sweeper, composer, missing

an eye, one leg shorter than the other, loved
dragons. Hissing dragons, especially, because
he could win even them. So what if they
smelled bad and King James gives them just

one word in Psalm 148? Billings turned his
anthem into dragons, turned his whole choir
into dragons, turned choirs into dragons two
hundred and twenty years into the future.

And because of his love, the dragons were
grateful. They unfolded their napkins and
ate turkey and Indian Pudding. Make sure
you hit the “s” in “hissings”, my husband says:

Hissssingss! Thus instructed, our lizard-like
scales include the whole world, as they were
intended to. See? The dragons are carrying
everyone’s plates to the kitchen sink. Alleluia!

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, November 26, 2015 — by Christine Potter

Why I Don’t Take Xanax by Christine Potter

Why I Don’t Take Xanax

Because the sky outside right now is both
grey and violet and enough leaves are gone
that I can finally see it from my desk. Because

pills only teach you how to swallow. Because
it’s late but not yet evening. Because my cat has
jumped off my desk and I can type without her

tail on the keyboard. Because there are too many
rattling bottles in the world and I do not want
another one, or anyone’s permission to own it.

Because it’s gotten dark but the sky is still violet.
Because my worries are two screech owls, talking
back and forth, somewhere up the valley. Because

screech owls are quite small and almost invisible
by day, with dappled grey feathers like tree bark.
Because 2 AM is relative and it’s not 2 AM yet.

Because 2 AM passes like a stranger whistling
on his way home. Because I never wanted my
heart to walk a straight line in this magic world.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: The repetition in this poem emphasizes the condition of the narrator—worried, a bit lost, but still uncomfortably sane (and surprisingly optimistic), as all of us are in the midst of this uncontrollable world.

On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911 by Christine Potter

On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911

Most people are slender. The air is bright and thick
behind them: men walk in dark suits, women
often in white, waists nipped tight, black parasols.

Overheated children squint from roofless autos
that share the avenues with trolleys and horses.
Horse poop, in fact, is everywhere. No one drives

around it. Smoke and steam rise from the chimneys
of boats and buildings. A wall of ivy shimmers
on a church. Chinese grocers, a remembered smell

of ripe peaches and dill weed: fifty years from then,
fifty years before now. (In the shade of a shop with
my grandmother, a hot afternoon, dollars counted

into her hand, chicken breasts, salad. The black
sheen of my grandfather’s car.) Edwardian high
windows, the brickwork around them not sooty yet.

(The train home carrying me past those tenements,
the news in my lap, during Watergate.) No one’s still
alive, but a riverside breeze moves the trees. I smell

creosote and the distant ocean. Walking across
Brooklyn Bridge, two teenaged boys—one white,
one black—hold hands, turn to smile at the camera.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: The meticulous punctuation of this poem emphasizes its careful narrative. The slow movement from past to present is almost unnoticed until the last line drops into view.

From the archives – Singing My First Funeral by Christine Potter

Singing My First Funeral

I think his last name was Messerich. His first…Charlie?
Probably. I hear my father’s voice saying it with

that friendly lilt men use to mean a good guy: Charlie
Messerich, church sexton during those few years Dad

tried believing what the rest of us did. Charlie’s funeral.
Everyone else was still alive. Sextons cleaned, fixed things—

but clearly not everything. Like having to die. Zion Church
looked embalmed as ever: dim, airless, polished, Victorian—

even with Sputnik twinkling in circles over our heads.
Someone else must have cleaned, I thought, and wondered

why I couldn’t cry. I knew you were supposed to. One girl
whose name I’ve also lost crayoned a picture: a man labeled

Charlie Messerich leading the Junior Choir skywards, all
our arms out straight before us like movie monsters, all

our kimono-sleeved choir robes dragging behind us on
pink and orange clouds. Melissa, maybe. I’d watched her

roll Italian bread into little balls and swallow handfuls
of them at the Spaghetti Dinner. Kids said her parents had

to call the ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Would
she have died? She cried at the funeral, and I could not.

Hymns. An anthem. It was just more church, and not
even Good Friday. I never asked her about her stomach.

Afterwards, I took off my starchy collar and freed my hair
and bobby pins from my choir beanie for The Reception

in the Parish Hall. Everyone’s mother smiled through
a haze of heated-over ham and pineapple slices too dense

for me to want any. I don’t think I ever cried, even later,
back home. I scuffed the soles of my patent leather shoes

all the way to my parents’ car. All afternoon, everything
was too bright, like staring at a bare light bulb. Like Heaven.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 24, 2017 — by Christine Potter

Pushcart Prize Nominations – 2017

logoborderlite

I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize:

Sonnet to negotiate peace with your dementia by Tracy Lee Karner

The Morning of My Madness Waking by Jim Zola

No I in Team by Ed Shacklee

The First Night by Devon Balwit

Moving Day by Alan Walowitz

After the Ghost Investigation by Christine Potter

Congratulations and good luck!

After The Ghost Investigation by Christine Potter

After The Ghost Investigation

The local writer on the paranormal with her camera,
electromagnetic meter, and infared thermometer,
having stayed, as she explained she must, long past sunset,

came back downstairs egg white-wan, silent. Her colleague,
with his day job in law enforcement, looked lost as the ring
of brown feathers left after a cat runs into the bushes.

You have them. We found you two. In the room across from
our bedroom, in the room behind my office. Her voice might
have been shaking. Just old spirits who don’t care to leave.

Not harmful. The one upstairs doesn’t know he’s dead.
I offered brandy, which no one wanted. Later, alone, or
perhaps not, my husband and I went to bed and addressed

our new-found guests: How are you, Mr. Ghost? No–that’s
disrespectful! No–you can’t really believe… When I turned off
our bedside lamp, darkness I’d once understood occupied itself

fully as it grew larger and larger–a black bloodstain, a backwards
mirror glinting what sorrow? A distant headlight? Or just
the flickerings ghosts know, caught here if they are here, never

driving away. These walls, see how they’ve changed from
what they used to be? Our bodies, too: how they change without
our permission! And see how long, how very long night lasts?

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This poem at first seems lighthearted, but the ominous dread of the investigating characters slowly bleeds into the living hosts of the ghosts’ house.

Singing My First Funeral by Christine Potter

Singing My First Funeral

I think his last name was Messerich. His first…Charlie?
Probably. I hear my father’s voice saying it with

that friendly lilt men use to mean a good guy: Charlie
Messerich, church sexton during those few years Dad

tried believing what the rest of us did. Charlie’s funeral.
Everyone else was still alive. Sextons cleaned, fixed things—

but clearly not everything. Like having to die. Zion Church
looked embalmed as ever: dim, airless, polished, Victorian—

even with Sputnik twinkling in circles over our heads.
Someone else must have cleaned, I thought, and wondered

why I couldn’t cry. I knew you were supposed to. One girl
whose name I’ve also lost crayoned a picture: a man labeled

Charlie Messerich leading the Junior Choir skywards, all
our arms out straight before us like movie monsters, all

our kimono-sleeved choir robes dragging behind us on
pink and orange clouds. Melissa, maybe. I’d watched her

roll Italian bread into little balls and swallow handfuls
of them at the Spaghetti Dinner. Kids said her parents had

to call the ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Would
she have died? She cried at the funeral, and I could not.

Hymns. An anthem. It was just more church, and not
even Good Friday. I never asked her about her stomach.

Afterwards, I took off my starchy collar and freed my hair
and bobby pins from my choir beanie for The Reception

in the Parish Hall. Everyone’s mother smiled through
a haze of heated-over ham and pineapple slices too dense

for me to want any. I don’t think I ever cried, even later,
back home. I scuffed the soles of my patent leather shoes

all the way to my parents’ car. All afternoon, everything
was too bright, like staring at a bare light bulb. Like Heaven.

by Christine Potter

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Christine’s Amazon Author Page

Editor’s Note: The detailed voice of the narrator meticulously leads the reader through her first experience with death as a singer, and offers the realization that nothing is as simple as she thought. The last couplet is a killer.

Dr. Haller Nutt’s Half-Built, Octagonal Mansion by Christine Potter

Dr. Haller Nutt’s Half-Built, Octagonal Mansion

Longwood Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi

For one hundred years, his family lived on in its cellar,
the upstairs walls sketched in raw lumber on bare brick.
Construction steps still spiral a rough, dizzy geometry

five stories up inside the dome. But by 1861, he’d frilled
each porch column in wooden lace. The huge roof and
Great War were on. Dr. Nutt owned 800 slaves. He died

before the end of hostilities. Left his daughters to play
with salesmen’s models of never-delivered chairs. Left us
this unimaginable eight-sided loss: pneumonia, poverty,

a paralyzing void passed generation to generation. Left
the smell of clay, of dust swimming in sunlight, a bench
lined in rusty tools, a piano’s empty shipping case tipped

on its side, grey as an cast-off bandage. You can buy a ticket
or rent the place for your holiday party. Everyone knew this
could never be finished. Everyone knows it still isn’t done.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: Sometimes the decay of a place stands in for the decay of a family (or of a country). This poem about Longwood Plantation illustrates that beautifully.